From today, the EU numbers 27 countries, with around 490 million male and female inhabitants. The majority of individuals within this group of nations are Christian, Muslim, Jewish or Non-Denominational. All of them should be offered the same opportunities and should receive education, employment and health care in an equitable manner. The European Year 2007 aims to contribute to this goal.
(InfoNet - Ulrika Engler) The European Union has been organising and proclaiming "European Years" since the beginning of the 1980s, assigning these years specific themes and concerns. During the European Years, activities, events and general public relations work are designed to reach a broader public audience and to provoke the increased acceptance of the issue in question.
The theme of equal opportunities is no stranger within the European Union. After all, its anti-discrimination laws are some of the most modern in the world. These laws establish a series of fundamental principles which offer all EU members a mutual minimum in terms of legal protection against discrimination. These provisions were strengthened by the Amsterdam Treaty and have already been interpreted by the European Court of Justice during the course of numerous cases. However, the facts demonstrate that laws are not sufficient.
It is still the case that only 47% of all disabled individuals have a place of employment, that immigrants and ethnic minorities living in socially disadvantaged districts are often at twice the risk of being socially excluded, and that women continue to receive, on average, 15% less for performing the same tasks as their male colleagues. Moreover, with an employment quota of 40%, in contrast to the EU average of 62%, older employees often find it extremely difficult to find work. And this in the EU, which aims to become the strongest economic area in the world by the year 2010!
Laws have to be both well-known and all-embracing in order to ensure that they are completely effective. They must thus be supported by clear political intentions and gain the support of the population. The European Year 2007 aims to place particular emphasis on these two aspects by means of activities which revolve around four key themes:
• Laws: sensitising public opinion with regard to the right to equal treatment and non-discrimination, as well as to the problems surrounding multiple discrimination.
• Representation: stimulating a debate on the opportunities for the improved social integration of groups including victims of discrimination, as well as for the more balanced participation of women and men.
• Recognition: facilitating and recognising diversity and equal treatment.
• Respect: promoting a more tolerant, united society.
15 million euros have been budgeted for these activities. An EU-wide information campaign is being planned, while new "eurobarometer" surveys will statistically record European citizens´ views on discrimination.
Approximately half of the money will be spent on hundreds of initiatives which will be implemented at national, regional and local levels. Essay competitions for school pupils on the themes of respect and tolerance, or prizes for companies with the most successful diversity training will take place in EU member countries and the three EFTA countries, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein. These should be co-ordinated at national level and carried out, where possible, at local level.
The European Year will be started officially at the end of January with an equality summit in Berlin, to be led by Germany, which holds the EU presidency during the first half of 2007. Inaugural conferences at a national level will subsequently take place in February and March. A concluding conference is planned for the end of November in Lisbon, in order to draw conclusions and formulate recommendations for the Council of Ministers meeting in Brussels during the Portuguese presidential term.